Supreme Court Refuses to Lift Patna HC's Stay on Bihar Caste Census

However, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter on July 14 if the high court does not hear it on July 3.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday (May 18) refused to lift the stay put by the Patna high court on the Bihar government’s caste census exercise. The bench noted that the high court has listed the case for final hearing on July 3.

“The impugned order is an interim one and the court has posted the main writ for hearing on July 3. In fact, the state government on May 9 moved applications before the Court that were disposed of. Contention of Advocate General was specifically rejected that final opinions were expressed. In fact, the High Court has observed that the court was open to other contentions when taken up for hearing,” the bench of Justices Abhay S. Oka and Rajesh Bindal said, according to Bar and Bench.

However, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter on July 14 if the high court does not hear it on July 3.

“Counsel for the petitioner states that the petition may be listed one week after July 3. He submits that if the High Court does not conduct the final hearing, this court may consider the matter on merits. We accordingly direct that this petition be listed on July 14 if for any reason hearing before High Court does not commence,” the court said.

On May 4, the Patna high court placed an interim stay on the caste census exercise being undertaken by the state government. The high court appeared to agree with the petitioner’s claim, saying that prima facie the survey appeared to be a census exercise.

The Nitish Kumar government had launched a caste census in Bihar in January this year, and said that detailed information on socio-economic conditions would help create better government policy to aid disadvantaged groups.

The caste census has become a major political concern in recent months, with opposition parties amping up the pressure on the Union government to do the exercise on a national basis. It was the Congress-led UPA government which first conducted a Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) in 2011-12 but never released its data because of varied opinions about it within the government.

As The Wire has reported, the demand for a caste census was more vocally expressed by different opposition parties after the Narendra Modi government implemented reservation for the Economically Weaker Classes (EWS), which effectively gave a quota to the so-called “upper caste” groups. The EWS reservation was seen as an anomaly in the caste-based affirmative action policy because the criteria was poverty, and was perceived by various parties as a move to deny marginalised castes and communities their rights.